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Morgan Tsvangirai: a leader and a fighter

Morgan Tsvangirai has died. Zimbabwe has lost a great leader, a true fighter. As founder of the Movement for Democratic Change he was the first opposition leader in Zimbabwe to emerge from outside the ruling party. Starting out in the trade union movement, he knew how to mobilise. A great orator, and a man of the people he was widely popular, even amongst his foes. Today he is buried at his home village in Buhera next to his first wife at a state-supported funeral.

He might have become president had the violence of the 2008 elections not got out of hand. Instead he withdrew fearing worse, and later took on the poisoned chalice of the prime minister role in the Government of National Unity. And then in 2013 the MDC lost the election, as he later admitted, and began to fall apart, especially after he became ill with cancer, which finally killed him.

Like his great opponent Mugabe he failed to deal with the succession issue, and the current unseemly wrangling among the power-hungry MDC trio is witness to this failure in leadership at the end. Whatever political position you take, having a vibrant opposition is essential in any country. The MDC-T, as it became after the 2005 split, has been a vital part of political debate in Zimbabwe since 1999.

Where the MDC failed particularly was to generate an effective narrative that would appeal widely to people in the rural areas – of course the substantial majority of the electorate. ZANU-PF held sway, with its often simplistic populist, nationalist rhetoric, and with state resources for food aid and development projects could show its concern for rural issues.

Tsvangirai surrounded himself with top constitutional lawyers and white businessmen and farmers. All exceptionally smart, and deeply committed to change, but probably not the right people to lead new policy thinking on agrarian reform, nor develop strategies for rural mobilisation. Eddie Cross was for example the main spokesperson on agriculture and land, while the late Roy Bennett was also influential.

Tsvangirai, himself from a rural background in Masvingo province, deferred to these advisors. This was a mistake, and meant that, with equivocation around land reform and lack of vision around post-land reform rural development, the political terrain was left to ZANU-PF, who defended it vigorously, especially around elections.

As I have discussed on this blog before, the emerging class differentiation in rural areas was a potential open electoral opportunity for the MDC. Educated, aspirant, entrepreneurial, increasingly rich farmers, linked to urban areas, were an ideal constituency, but were ignored in favour of the urban masses, which of course was Tsvangirai’s territory from ZCTU days.

There were mistakes and misfortunes, intimidation and violence, as well as turns of events that meant that Tsvangirai’s ambitions were never realised. But over the last 20 years he has been central to political life in Zimbabwe, and made a massive contribution, as a strong, brave, courageous and principled politician. You can’t say that about many people.

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Below are a number of links to obituaries and personal tributes, with much more detail on Tsvangirai’s life and important achievements. Twitter is of course full of many comments and tributes. On youtube, Oliver Mtukudzi has offered his own musical version.

  • Alex Magaisa offers a very personal and heartfelt BSR written hours after his death. He was a close adviser to the prime minister during the build-up to the fateful 2013 elections.
  • Stephen Chan provided the obituary for the Guardian newspaper. He again knew him well, and they wrote a book together. While recognising his great achievements, he makes some important comments about Tsvangirai’s failings and limitations.
  • Evan Mawarire, the #ThisFlag leader, highlights Tsvangirai’s courage in a piece in the Mail and Guardian, written just before he died.
  • David Moore offers a piece in The Conversation, reflecting on what might have been.

Other obituaries from some the major international newspapers tell a less interesting story – more the heroic narrative of peasant boy to union leader to valiant but brutalised opponent to the evil Mugabe (all true, but told without the nuance of those above). The NYT, Washington Post and The Telegraph offer some examples.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland. Photo from @263chat

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A year on from ZANU-PF’s election victory: limits and constraints

On July 31 last year, ZANU-PF were victorious in the elections. The opposition was annihilated. The elections were disputed by many, and many questions were raised about the process, but most commentators agreed that this was a shift of support back to ZANU-PF, with the opposition having run out of steam.

A number of good commentaries were published in the Journal of Southern African Studies that offered views from different perspectives, including from Miles Tendi, Phillan Zamchiya and Brian Raftopolous. Perhaps the most powerful though comes from McDonald Lewanika and Delta Milayo Ndou (formerly of the Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition) in ‘We the People’, a beautifully illustrated edited book of personal testimonies and reflections from Zimbabweans after the elections. Most are urban, educated and opposition supporters, but the sense of melancholy and loss, reflecting on a moment that had so much hope, is tangible and powerful.

Nearly a year ago on September 10 2013, a confident ZANU-PF announced a new cabinet and ambitious plans for the future under the ZimAsset programme. Attempts to rebuild relationships with the west started, while overtures to the Chinese continued. A new minister of lands, Douglas Mombeshora, has stated boldly that no new land invasions would be allowed, and that land administration would be regularised, with those illegally occupying land or underutilising it evicted.

It sounded as if a corner had been turned. But sadly such a transition has not occurred. In the last year, the economy has floundered, as the new investment has failed to arrive; relationships with Europe and the US remain tetchy; the Chinese are playing hardball; and land invasions have continued, despite attempts at audits and new permit systems (see next week’s blog).

Meanwhile, the opposition has imploded. The expected departure of Morgan Tsvangirai has not happened, and he clings on to one faction, with surprisingly wide public support. The MDC-T though has fractured, with Tendai Biti and colleagues declaring a ‘renewal team’, and presumably in time a new party, for a revived opposition. They are actively courting investors and foreign governments, while belatedly accepting that a focus on economic and social rights and redistribution issues – ZANU-PF’s political territory for the 2013 elections – must be central to any revamped approach. The situation is very messy indeed.

The warring factions continue to slug it out within ZANU-PF too, with different groupings being speculated on in the press almost daily. What is clear is that there is no easy resolution of the ‘succession’ issue, and Mugabe is playing the longer game (to the 2018 elections) to see how this will resolve itself.

The consequence is that there is massive uncertainty on the political scene, and this translates itself into challenges for economic regeneration. In May at a SAPES Trust event, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa declared:

Zimbabwe is open to Foreign Direct Investment from all Nations of the World, whether these be in the North, South, East or West… Zimbabwe is ready to re-integrate into the global economy. Zimbabwe is looking for new friendships, new opportunities while consolidating old ones. We are looking for mutually beneficial economic relationships not confrontation. We are too small a country to pursue a policy of confrontation.

This signaled a softening of stance, and a willingness to engage. Equally the purge of corrupt parastatals and their officials led by Jonathan Moyo was clearly aimed at an international audience, with a very visible attempt to deal with corruption – although of course only in one area. Statements on the flagship ‘indigenisation’ policy have been much more tempered since the elections, with senior party officials stating that expropriation and nationalization are not on the agenda, and that there has to be flexibility in the application of the policy.

In a typically perceptive piece for the Solidarity Peace Trust, Brian Raftopolous argues:

The mixed policy messaging of the Mugabe regime can be attributed both to the challenges of seeking fuller international re-engagement while holding on to its empowerment programme, and the tensions within ZANU PF about how to proceed with such a re-engagement. The tropes of sovereignty, liberation history, regional solidarity and empowerment have been integral to ZANU PF’s political imaginary and ‘language of stateness’, in both the party’s ‘practical languages of governance’ and the ‘symbolic languages of authority’. However the exposure of the limits of the state’s capacity to effect its indigenisation programme has led to the dual strategy of seeking a rapprochement with the West, while promising to export the Zimbabwean model to the SADC region.

Such contradictions are the legacy of the past 14 or so years. The radical redistributive policies, most notably the land reform, have presented major challenges in economic terms. The withdrawal of external support and international investment has hampered the rebounding of the economy, and the business-political patronage networks that were established to prop up the regime in this period are certainly not the basis for a prosperous, competitive economy.

There are bright spots though. The informal sector is booming, and providing jobs and livelihoods. While many argue this is not the real economy, it is certainly the main economy. In the restructured agricultural sector, the tobacco boom continues, with a massive 210 million tonnes of tobacco being traded this year. While livelihoods are unquestionably improving especially for those on the land, galvanising new, coherent and sustained economic growth is a big challenge, and the long (often rather sensible) wish-lists in the ZimAsset blueprint will not be realized without sustained investment.

Much of course relies on a rapprochement with the west, and with international capital and finance. Given the bad feeling, abuse and threats that have occurred over time, this will not be easy, especially with Britain. Miles Tendi offers a fascinating analysis of this challenge, based on interviews with some of the key players, on both the UK and the Zimbabwe sides, and how a sustained ‘demonisation’ invective from both has not helped matters.

A fundamental question remains, however: how to balance a commitment to redistribution and economic empowerment with engagement in a globalized economy, and in a context where national debt amounts to a staggering US$6 billion? Is there any way to resist the inevitable reincorporation into a neoliberal world order, and sustain the progressive gains of reform? Despite the socialist solidarity rhetoric, the Chinese are interested in commercial business just as any other western nation or multinational company. And countries in the region are wary of heading down an alternative route, despite the electioneering rhetoric of Julius Malema further south. So ZANU PF is in a bind. As Brian Raftopolous argues, there are clear ‘limits to victory’.

 This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Zimbabwe’s elections 2013: more confusion, more uncertainty

Zimbabwe’s trauma continues. The Zimbabwe Election Commission has announced a landslide victory for ZANU-PF. ZANU-PF reportedly took two-thirds of the parliamentary seats and President Mugabe won 61% of the presidential vote, with Morgan Tsvangirai picking up 34%. MDC-T has called the elections ‘a sham’, ‘a farce’, ‘null and void’. GNU education minister, David Coltart, argued that “Zimbabwe has been subjected to electoral fraud on a massive scale”. Tendai Biti called it all a ‘loquacious tragedy’.

Meanwhile, the official observers from SADC and the AU have called the election ‘peaceful, credible and efficient’, ‘free and peaceful’, reflecting ‘the will of the people’, with high turnouts and orderly voting. Some have called for a rejection of the ballot and the staging of mass resistance. Baba Jukwa, the massively popular Facebook avatar with 350k ‘likes’ who claims he is a disaffected ZANU-PF insider, has declared war.

We will never know the ‘true’ results, although as last time there was probably a rural-urban and regional split, with more of a balance overall than any political grouping claims. Both main parties naturally proclaimed before the poll that they were likely to be certain victors. Results of prior opinion polling were mixed, although pointing towards a rehabilitation of ZANU-PF and disillusionment with the MDC’s performance in government. Meanwhile, the MDC and the allied NGO groups long before the elections pointed to the potential for electoral fraud, and the cynical manipulation of the vote.  While unlike 2008 there was thankfully minimal violence during the election period, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network argued that there were major problems with the process, including:

  •  Voters’  roll discrepancies
  • Intimidation
  • Late  opening of polling stations
  • Slow pace of assisting aspiring voters in some urban polling stations
  • High number of assisted voters recorded in rural areas
  • Shortage of ballot papers in some wards
  • First time voters denied the chance to vote as they were not appearing in the      voters’ roll and their registration slips had missing ward details.

A joint statement from the NGOs rejected the election results. The AU observer team also expressed ‘grave concerns’. The UK and the US have also called the elections ‘flawed’. China, India, South Africa and others have remained silent so far, although this is how it was reported in the China Daily and The Hindu.

The scale and implications of the problems remain unclear. Claims and counter claims are being made. In a small country, rigging the vote by over a million is a hell of lot, especially consistently across presidential, parliamentary and council elections. The turnout was high at around 3.5m, making it even more challenging. Maybe they did win as many had expected, but perhaps not by as big a margin as declared.

However, suspicions of foul play are running high. ZANU-PF is a sophisticated and ruthless operation. Such suspicions are increased by bizarre rumours about dodgy security companies, Israeli pens in the voting booths where the ink disappears, special ballot papers with watermarks with crosses against ZANU-PF already inserted and a specially imported Chinese solution for removing the pink ink from voters’ fingers. No-one really knows what happened; and we probably never will.

The final tallies are being published (check here and here for details), but the scale of the ZANU-PF win is clear. What is for sure is that the disputes over the results will run and run, with legal challenges to follow. If the confusion and uncertainty persists, the tentative recovery that had been nurtured since 2009 may be quickly wiped out if a new government does not move quickly to assure investors, donors and others.

What to make of it all? I am unsure, but here are a few quick reflections and some links to some interesting sources and commentaries that I have found over the last few days.

The rehabilitation of the image of ZANU-PF and President Mugabe in particular has been striking. For example on a flight from Addis to London, a colleague of mine was handed a copy of the New African, with a special glossy insert feature on Zimbabwe. It had articles from all the leading presidential candidates, but in the small print you could see that it was produced by the Ministry of Information. The message was clear: Zimbabwe was back on track, and Mugabe was in charge.

The MDC formations meanwhile were floundering. While having some successes in government – notably on the economy (under Tendai Biti) and in education (under David Coltart) – in many people’s eyes they had been tainted by power, lacking ideas and vision, and reverting to the corrupt practices that they had criticised in opposition.

The election manifestos of the main parties (ZANU-PF, MDC-T, MDC and ZAPU) were predictable enough, but none really fired people’s interest. The issue of land was of course ever-present in the electioneering discourse, deployed in particular by ZANU-PF to bolster its nationalist and rural credentials. The MDC groupings, even after over a decade, sadly still failed to offer a convincing alternative narrative on land and rural development.

Of course the elections were not being fought on such policy issues. Those opposed to ZANU-PF however failed to broker a coalition of opposition, and the vote was often divided, particularly in Matabeleland, but also in some urban centres, including Masvingo. David Coltart of MDC-N for example lost his seat to a MDC-T candidate. Political and personal differences, combined with narrow regionalism and factionalism, provided a perfect opportunity for ZANU-PF, despite it also being divided and weak.

This was Zimbabwe’s first electronic, Internet age election. There was hope that these mechanisms – checking voter registration, crowd mapping election violations, posting votes, monitoring election sites and mapping results – would bring greater transparency and accountability. There was an impressive array of engagement, from the 7000 ‘citizen monitors’ deployed by the ZESN to the websites of  Sokwanele, MyVote and Simukai. Twitter and Facebook pages have gone wild, with intensive commentary and debate not least via the Baba Jukwa pages.

But, in the end, it didn’t seem to have an impact on the legitimacy and credibility of the process. Too many questions remained unanswered, and confusion still prevails, as the various ‘independent’ observers and monitored contradicted each other, declaring either the elections broadly free and fair or discredited by foul play.

The international media has as a result of all this also been deeply confused. No-one is quite sure what to make of it all. As Andrew Harding of the BBC commented, there is now a battle over the narrative of the election, not the specific results. Some of the media had decided what the narrative was before it was held, but there has been some thoughtful commentary too. Lydia Polgreen of the NYT was typically nuanced, bringing in the land dimension into one of her pieces. The FT had a good article on the key role of the military. David Smith of the Guardian had a few good pieces too. Also, African Arguments posted several good commentaries in the build up, including by Brian Raftopolous and Simukai Tinhu. And then there were the bloggers and the twitter sphere, with #zimelection carrying all sorts of commentary and links; some sensible and sound, some weird and whacky.

The political uncertainty that these elections have delivered means that, sadly once again, the immediate future is in the balance. Whoever individual Zimbabweans voted for, the final overall outcome may not be what anyone wanted – which was peace and stability. As a friend commented on the phone from Gwanda just now: “It’s trouble again”.  Let’s hope that a spirit of accommodation and compromise prevails.

In the next period at least, ZANU-PF can organise the succession from Mugabe from a position of strength, and the opposition will have to regroup again, probably under new leadership. The political landscape has certainly changed with this election, but the full implications still remain unclear.

UPDATE: Since this blog was published there have been two very good comment pieces in the Guardian by Knox Chitiyo and Blessing Miles Tendi. Both are well worth a read:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/05/zimbabwe-inconvenient-election-truth

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/05/robert-mugabe-zimbabwe-election-zanu-pf

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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